Hazel Ward reflects on 101 years
Daisy Hill resident Hazel Ward celebrated her 101st birthday Wednesday, Dec. 12, with a small party. “This one,” she says, “just a year older.”
A huge 100th birthday party was held in her honor at Daisy Hill Senior Living in Versailles a year ago. That’s when she got to see her baby doll again.
Hazel, who was born during World War I, received that doll from oldest brother Walter when she was 5 years old. She kept the doll and had it restored before giving it to her first great-granddaughter a few years ago.
The ninth of 11 children in her family, Hazel was born and raised in Barbourville. Her dad was a farmer, who mined coal and taught school. “We managed alright,” says Hazel of life during the Great Depression. “Our family came in and helped us when we needed help, but so many people didn’t” have any help at all.
Hazel says she met her soon-to-be husband, Don A. Ward, a student at Union College, during a party at the Baptist church in 1936 when she was a 17-year-old senior in high school. “And in August (after he graduated),” she says, “we slipped off and went to Middlesboro and got married.”
The couple moved to Louisville when Don started law school at the University of Louisville, and lived there during what’s known as the Great Flood of 1937. Cities and towns along the Ohio River and its tributaries were devastated by torrential rainfall, sleet and freezing rain from Jan. 9 to 23, according to The Filson Historical Society’s website.
Don and Hazel were living in downtown Louisville when the flooding rains rose to the top of a transfer (dump) truck parked below a second-floor window of an apartment building. “Three of (those trucks) floated across the street and landed against the light pole,” Hazel remembers.
A water rescue saved her life.
“I climbed out of the second-floor window into a boat,” remembers Hazel. She says the people from the apartment building were taken across Broadway and then boarded a train for a ride to Crescent Hill, a nearby neighborhood.
“The water was so deep,” says Hazel of the train ride, “we had to sit with our feet up in the seat.”
She and other passengers rescued during the flood were taken to a church, where “they fixed soup for us,” she says.
Asked if she was afraid, Hazel says, “Why sure I was afraid.”
“You didn’t know if you were going to make it or not,” she later adds.
Hazel and Don lived in his native Hazard for awhile before moving to California in 1940, where they remained for four years. The couple, who raised four sons, returned to Hazard and would spend most of their married life in that Eastern Kentucky town, before moving to Lexington in 1989.
It was while living in Hazard around 1963 or ’64 that Hazel started working for a very small community library. At first, she wasn’t going to take a test for the job after being told she would receive only $400 a month.
“I picked up my purse and started to leave,” Hazel recalls, telling the man who interviewed her, “I’m not going to bother taking that test because I can’t work for that. It would cost me that much to take care of my little boy while I work.’”
He quickly changed his tune. Telling her, “Sit down, sit down, let’s talk this over,” which led to his offer of “a great big increase” in pay, she says.
Hazel and a prominent businessman, Vernon Cooper, were instrumental in getting a library tax passed in Perry County and getting a new library built in 1964, according to youngest son Steve. His dad by that time was serving as the county’s circuit judge.
“I’ve had a busy life,” says Hazel, who worked as a librarian for nine years.
After Don died in 1993, Hazel remained in Lexington for awhile and moved to Daisy Hill Senior Living in Versailles four years ago so she’d be closer to Steve, a former Woodford County coroner who has lived here for 40-some years.
Asked about being the oldest resident at Daisy Hill, Hazel says, “I don’t mind.” She does miss friends who’ve died, like one of her closest, Pauline, but likes making new friends too.
Hazel sits at the head of a table with a group of friends every day. She also likes playing bingo and bridge, and remains an avid reader who regularly comes across a book or story that she finds “quite interesting.”
Hazel’s mobility has been slowed by bad knees so she uses a wheelchair to get around. “Other than that,” says Steve, “her health is good.”
Daisy Hill’s activity director, Jane Washington, interrupts the conversation carrying a handful of cards from Hazel’s mailbox.
“I’ve never seen so many birthday cards in my life in one mailbox,” says Washington.
Hazel tells her, “I’ll have a good time looking at them.”
Photographs of Hazel’s husband, her sons and their wives cover one wall in her Daisy Hill apartment. Two of her sons have died. The oldest, Dick, and his wife were killed in an automobile accident in 2009. Don, another son, died from complications of pneumonia in 2015.
A third son, Sam, who’s almost 5 years older than Steve, lives in Louisville.
Asked how it feels being 101, Hazel says, “You don’t feel any different. You just have more memories – good and bad.”
She may not have a best memory, but says, “I loved my children.”
One memory still makes Steve laugh. It was the day he and Sam would not stop fighting – even after their mother, the disciplinarian in the family, threatened, “Boys, if you don’t quit I’m going to have to belt you good.” They kept it up. So she told husband Don to settle “those two boys down.”
That’s when Hazel heard Sam and Steve crying out in the other room. She thought her husband was killing them. He was hitting the arm of a leather chair while telling his sons, “Cry boys. Cry,” Steve recalls.
Hazel says she grabbed the belt after seeing what Don was doing and hit him across the bottom, telling him, “Now, you cry.”
When Steve brings up a memory of his mom being photographed by a Hazard Herald photographer while not wearing shoes and Hazel insisting they crop the photo so her stocking feet were not visible, she tells her son, “Some things you are supposed to forget.”
Hazel, who has voted in every presidential election since she’s been old enough to vote, didn’t identify a favorite when asked. She did surprise her youngest son with what he described as an “interesting perspective” after she told a visitor, “I think they’ve been awfully hard on the president we have now.”
Hazel, who worked as a beautician while Don was going to law school, still insists on always looking her best. “I guess I get that from my mom and dad both,” she says.
To this day, Hazel says she had a pompadour hairstyle that was two-inches higher than Gloria Vanderbilt.
“We spend more money on makeup than we do medicine,” says Steve. “It’s true. … She takes about three pills a day.”
He attributes his mom’s longevity to eating a tomato – like an apple – every morning.